Showing courageous responsibility for our Europe

29.04.2024 - Article

Contribution by Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock in several European media.

With the European anthem ringing in their ears and fireworks lighting up the night sky, complete strangers embraced each other. I joined hundreds of people back then, on 1 May 2004, on the Oder bridge between Frankfurt in eastern Germany and Słubice in western Poland in celebrating this special European moment. East and West were united in the European Union at long last. Around 75 million people in Czechia, Estonia, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Malta, Poland, Slovenia, Slovakia and Cyprus became part of the EU family on that night. Our neighbours in Bulgaria, Romania and Croatia also joined them later on.

It was the courageous responsibility and vision of the people in the accession countries – from the Baltic region to the Mediterranean Sea – that made this great celebration possible back then. They had embarked upon the long and difficult road of reform and harmonisation with determination.

For me as Germany’s Foreign Minister, 1 May reminds us that each generation has its task. The generations of our parents and grandparents recognised after the Second World War that reconciliation is the basis for a European community of peace. We Germans must never forget that especially we, who brought war and destruction to so many people, were thus able to find the path to peace and friendship. The generations before us created a European Union of freedom – for living, working and doing business – from the Atlantic up to the border with Russia.

The generation of the major round of enlargement had to have the courage back then not to be deterred by pushbacks or populist slogans. Like in Germany, where in times of high unemployment the fear of the “Polish plumber” was stoked. The job of politicians, however, is, as former Federal President Walter Scheel once put it, “to do the right thing and make it popular”, as opposed to giving in to moods and letting ourselves be driven by them. If social media had already existed at that time, then I wonder whether the debate would have perhaps had a different conclusion. But nothing hopeful can grow from hatred, populism or naysayers.

Our generation now faces the task of defending and strengthening the peace and freedom project that is Europe, even though this takes incredible strength. After all, Putin’s war of aggression against Ukraine is a most brutal reminder that our peace, freedom and prosperity in Europe cannot be taken for granted. What guided the generations before us in building our united Europe is what we also need today to protect our Europe, namely courageous responsibility and vision.

As the European Union, we are defending our values and our security together with friends and allies and are standing firmly by Ukraine’s side – for as long as it takes. By the side of a country that, for over two years now, has made the very greatest sacrifices for a future in freedom and democracy – and which is now itself taking big strides towards EU accession.

At the latest since Russia’s war of aggression against Ukraine, we know that today the expansion of our EU is a geopolitical necessity, too. Political and geographical “grey zones” in the Balkans or in the east of the EU are highly dangerous. We cannot afford such grey zones as for Putin they are an invitation to interfere and destabilise.

The European Union stands for freedom, democracy and the rule of law. Just like 20 years ago, once again today millions of Europeans see an opportunity and a promise in becoming EU citizens. And we cannot afford once again to make an entire generation sit in the EU’s waiting room, as in the countries of the Western Balkans. We must not pass up the opportunity to make our Union bigger and stronger – and therefore also more secure. Our Union of peace and freedom is open for new members.

However, in order for the accession of further countries to the Union to be successful, we must ensure that the EU remains capable of taking action both internally and externally. We will continue to develop our EU with all due resolve to this end. Even if we have intense debates about how time and again – as is to be expected in a big family. The wealth of experience of the EU members that have joined the Union since 2004, countries that successfully mastered a long transformation process, is particularly valuable here.

In order for our Union of freedom to accomplish this task for our generation, we must reform it. To my mind, this includes reducing the scope for vetoes in the Council. We must remain capable of action also in a future Union potentially numbering over 35 members. This includes reaching decisions more often with a large majority as opposed to achieving unanimity. Even if this means that Germany – like any other member state – can also be outvoted. We must address enlargement and reform with determination.

Showing courageous responsibility means today that we must make our European Union fit to take in new countries already in this decade. So that people can embrace each other once again, with the European anthem ringing in their ears, united in our growing European family.

Annalena Baerbock, Federal Minister for Foreign Affairs


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